Biofuels: Another Good Reason to Hate American Policy

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By Stephen Leahy

Jan 25 (IPS) – U.S. biofuels production is driving up food prices around the world, giving billions of poor people a very good reason to hate U.S. policy, say environmentalists.

“The U.S. has led the fight to stem global hunger, now we are creating hunger,” said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington.

The booming U.S. ethanol industry is diverting enormous amounts food into fuel: 81 million tonnes of grain in 2007 and 114 million tonnes this year, equaling 28 percent of the entire U.S. grain harvest, Brown told IPS.

Previous eras of high grain prices were mainly the result of bad weather, but these price hikes are the result of government policy, he said.”Grain prices are at record or near-record highs and they will go higher,” he said. “We might be the first society in history to use public tax dollars to drive up its own food prices.”U.S. government subsidies for ethanol and biodiesel will be 13 billion dollars this year and will approach 100 billion dollars for the 2006-2012 period, according to a report released last October by the International Institute for Sustainable Development‘s Global Subsidies Initiative based in Geneva, Switzerland.

These subsidies translate into roughly 1.40 dollars to 1.70 dollars per gallon of gasoline equivalent and 2.00 dollars to 2.35 dollars per gallon of diesel equivalent. And the way current legislation is written, U.S. taxpayers will continue to subsidise every gallon of biofuel for decades to come, the report found.

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On Dec. 19, President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act 2007, which mandates the use of 36 billion gallons of agrofuels per year by 2022 — a five-fold increase over present levels.

“We pay billions to support the ethanol industry and then we pay again at the supermarket for higher-priced foods,” said Brown.

This lose-lose biofuel strategy doesn’t even offer any genuine environmental benefits, he added, since growing corn and making ethanol uses lots of fuel, fertiliser, pesticides and water, and degrades the soil.

Turning food into biofuel pits the car owners of the world against the two billion poor who struggle to get enough to eat, he said.

The results of this unequal competition will be even worse than a 2007 University of Minnesota study that reported the 850 million people currently suffering from hunger and malnutrition will rise to at least 1.2 billion by 2025 because of competition for land and water from biofuels.

As wheat, corn, and soybean prices climb, prices of the food products made directly from these commodities such as bread, pasta and tortillas, and those made indirectly, such as pork, poultry, beef, milk, and eggs, are everywhere on the rise.

In Mexico, corn meal prices are up 60 percent. In Pakistan, flour prices have doubled. China is facing rampant food price inflation.

Social unrest over food prices has already started, creating instability in weaker countries, and it will only get worse, Brown predicted.

“Agrofuels (biofuels) are driving us up an inflationary food price spiral,” agreed Eric Holt-Gimenez of the Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First, an NGO in Oakland, California.

For complete story see  Biofuels a Lose-Lose Strategy, Critics Say

My other articles on ethanol and biofuels :

Green Standards Proposed for Biofuel Production

Quotes From Six Experts On Ethanol

Greenest Ethanol Still Unproven

Ethanol: The Great Big Green Fraud

Food & Fuel: The New Magic Bullet Biofuel?

Record $Financing For Biofuels, Not Food

7 thoughts on “Biofuels: Another Good Reason to Hate American Policy

  1. Hi Stephen

    Thank you for highlighting your article over at The Coffee House. We have been debating the issue of biofuels for a year now and can thank http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/biofuelwatch/ for highlighting this issue early on, before the mainstream media had woken up to the problem. If you are interested in getting email alerts from them they will update you every single day … except Christmas.🙂

    This is their website; http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/

  2. Why do the American people stand by while their government forces (mandates) them to burn their food? This will not stop until those of you in non farm states raise a fuss. I assure you that no farm state senator or congressman will vote against it. It would be political suicide. GROPEC (Getting Rich Off Producing Ethanol from Corn) grows more politically powerful with each tax dollar they extract from the rest of us.

  3. hello steve my name is lungelo and i am 19 years old. yes steve we can all see that the biofuel strategy has many negative implications and yes we do all see that many people will starve in the long run but then what do we propose is the best solution for the current enrgy crisis which we are all facing. although it may sound cruel to say this but what if i said that pepole in africa(i am african by the way), would still be starving at the same levels even if these biofuel strategies were not imposed because lets face it steve peolple like you who care so much about the rest of the world are very few and lets be honest nobody really cares about us, we are like an nusence and the rest of the world does not help us out of the goodness of their hearts but rather because they feel that it is their duty to save our pathetic africa.

  4. Les – you’re correct, ethanol has become a new way for the White House to subsidize agri-business and placate the powerful farm lobby. Food prices aside, ethanol will make US water and fertilizer pollution problems far worse.

  5. Lungelo: On climate we need good solutions such as improved energy efficiency. Same is true for addressing global inequities. the crisis of climate change has the potential to help people understand we are all interconnected and therefore need to practice ‘safe climate lifestyles’

    I can’t say much about Africa other than what other Africans have told me.. perhaps the best thing would be to leave Africa alone…but that isn’t going to happen for good and ill.

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